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Despite mistake, Taiwan opens border U.S. beef
Ohio correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the wake of turmoil regarding non-compliance of U.S. beef exports to Japan, there is some good news for U.S. cattlemen.

Last week USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said Taiwan will partially lift its ban on U.S. beef, reopening their borders to U.S. boneless beef from animals under 30 months of age.

“I’m extremely pleased with Taiwan’s resumption of trade in U.S. beef,” Johanns said. “This advances our goal to resume normal beef trade throughout the world that follows science-based international guidelines in food and animal safety.”

The announcement closely follows the recent openings of several other major Asian markets to U.S. beef in Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea - as well as controversy in mid-January when beef that was not approved for export to Japan was discovered in a shipment of U.S. beef. As a result, Japan implemented a temporary hold on the resumption of U.S. beef imports.

In 2003, the United States exported more than $76 million worth of beef to Taiwan, with boneless beef products accounting for $56 million of that total. Taiwan’s market is now open to more than 90 percent of total U.S. ruminant and ruminant products, whose value reached $325 million in 2003.

After the discovery of a BSE-infected cow in the United States in 2003, $4.8 billion worth of U.S. beef and beef product exports were banned.

Markets accounting for $3.8 billion of that total have since reopened to U.S. beef.

Taiwan had previously reopened its market to U.S. beef last April, but closed it again in June following the confirmation of a second U.S. case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also called mad Cow disease. During that short time frame in 2005, Taiwan imported $41 million in beef products from U.S. producers.

“BSE is extremely rare in the United States,” said Terry Stokes, chief executive officer of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association of Centennial, Colo. “As America’s beef producers, our number-one priority has always been providing the safest beef in the world. Our livelihood depends on it, and NCBA has worked with the government and top scientists for more than 15 years to build, maintain and expand the safeguards that today are protecting consumers and our cattle from BSE.”

Since the initial BSE case in 2003, the U.S. BSE Enhanced Surveillance Program has tested nearly 600,000 targeted animal at highest risk for BSE and has found only one case, proof that the safeguards are working according to Stokes.

Based on the surveillance data, BSE potential in the Untied States is estimated to be less than 1 in 15.2 million healthy cattle over 30 months of age. Thirty months of age appears to be a critical marker as BSE is a disease found in older cattle.

In response to the increased incidence in older cattle, when Japan reopened its borders to U.S. beef, it agreed with the contingency that they would only accept beef from cattle younger than 20 months of age and only boneless beef and beef products. On Jan. 20, the cattle industry learned that a shipment of U.S. beef exports to Japan failed to meet requirements by Japanese inspectors because the shipment included backbone, which Japan had not agreed to import.

“Under U.S. regulations, the backbone, or vertebral column, that was exported to Japan is not a specified risk material because it was in beef under 30 months,” Johanns said. “However, our agreement with Japan is to export beef with no vertebral column, and we have failed to meet the terms of that agreement.”

As a result, the processing plant that exported the product can no longer export beef to Japan, and additional USDA inspectors have been sent to every plant approved to export beef in order to review procedures and ensure compliance with export agreements. Every shipment of beef must also be inspected and approved by two USDA inspectors as well, and all USDA beef inspectors must undergo additional training to ensure they are fully aware of all export requirements.

U.S. beef and beef variety meet exports were up 48 percent in volume in 2005 and up 70 percent in value from 2004, according to the NCBA.

In 2004, exports suffered huge losses and were down 75 percent in volume and 79 percent in value from 2003.

The NCBA continues to urge for the full re-opening of U.S. beef export markets, indicating that they believe there is no scientific explanation why borders remained closed in a few countries two years after the initial BSE case.

Published in the February 1, 2006 issue of Farm World.